Three Movie Stars Explain The Feeling of Live Performance In A Screen-Addicted World
As the curtains rise on three of the most anticipated Broadway shows of the season — Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Network, we spoke with three movie stars taking starring turns in each: Bryan Cranston, Jeff Daniels, and Lucas Hedges. From Hedges’s debut to the veterans Cranston and Daniels, each sees the stage as a place of intimacy, responsibility, spontaneity and fun (we’ll let you guess which one thinks that). But what do this trio, each famous for their inimitable technique in front of the camera, think about the heightened nature of live performance in a screen-addicted world?
Bryan Cranston, Network
Adapted from Paddy Chayefsky’s startlingly prescient 1976 screenplay about media and the blurring of truth, Network, traces the anchorman Howard Beale’s unlikely journey from publicly unraveling madman to populist oracle. After winning the Olivier Award for best actor for his performance as Beale in London earlier this year, Bryan Cranston, 62, has relocated to New York for the play’s Broadway reprisal, opening December 6.
“You learn what a play is about through your audience. Sometimes they chuckle. Sometimes they get uncomfortable. Then you read them and change with it. It’s emotional echolocation — like a dolphin. [Cranston squeals like a dolphin] But then, of course, you can also just forget your lines, which I’ve done before. I was in a play called Wrestlers, and one time we were going along and suddenly my brain jammed. I didn’t panic, but I had no idea what to do next. The silence fed into the pressure I felt from the audience, and I tried to send the other actor a desperate plea with my mind. Eventually he got my message and said, ‘Didn’t you say you talked to Uncle Morty yesterday?’ I was so thankful, I almost screamed, ‘Yes, I did!’ In some ways, technology has caught up to theater in the sense that we can mic ourselves now. When you amplify a voice, you let an actor project their words to the degree that’s necessary to convey a specific thought or mood. If you’re not mic’d, and you want to say something soft and intimate, you still have to say it really loud. It can become a false presentation. But I hated the idea of having the microphone in Network. I wanted to put it in a place where you couldn’t see it, so I stuck it in my hair.”
Lucas Hedges, The Waverly Gallery
Already an Academy Award nominee for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, Lucas Hedges, 22, now makes his Broadway debut alongside Joan Allen, Michael Cera, and Elaine May in Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, which opened this past October.
“I like to think that there’s something mystical and mysterious about what we do as actors, but there’s also something very practical about it. Like, if I don’t have every line memorized, I know for a fact that I will go up there and my face will get red and I will freak out. Thinking about it that way brings it back down to Earth. I had a lot of friends come to the show the other night, and I have a tendency to turn them into a jury. I find it exciting to be present with them and to stand up there and look someone in the eyes in a moment when I feel so vulnerable to judgement. The nature of the theater means I’m more in it than I’ve ever felt before as an actor. There’s a cathartic quality to that, and it leaks into other parts of my life. My castmate Michael Cera is putting me through a film education at the moment. The first one he gave me was The Heartbreak Kid, which is a film Elaine May made in the ’70s and which was very important for me to see since I’m now working with her every night. I have a lot of respect for Michael—especially how he never thinks of things in terms of career moves or legacy. He treats acting almost like he’s at summer camp. It’s like, ‘Do I want to do archery, or do I want to do fencing?’ And I think about that now with my future career decisions—summer-camp fun or legacy moves? I think it’s a mistake to put all your eggs in the legacy basket.”
Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird
Premiering December 13, Aaron Sorkin’s theater adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, which stars Jeff Daniels, 63, as the Southern defense attorney Atticus Finch, explores questions of racial injustice that remain as unresolved as they were in the 1930s setting of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel.
“Theater has survived despite radio, television, and movies—and chances are it will survive our current street-junkie addiction to digital technology. No matter how advanced mobile devices become, they will never be able to replicate the thrill of being in the same room as a living, breathing work of art. There’s an immediacy, responsibility, and control that comes with performing before a live audience. I’m the one who gets to take the audience by the hand and lead them through the story. I can make them laugh, make them cry, or hang on to a moment until they’re so silent we can actually hear a pin drop. In the theater, the actor and audience are in it together. And when it works, it beats film every time. The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird was when Aaron Sorkin asked me if I’d be interested in playing Atticus Finch on Broadway. The suddenness of falling face-first into the right hook that was Tom Robinson’s guilty verdict, all through Harper Lee’s beautiful prose, is what landed it for me. Lee yanked White America right into the cold-blooded reality of racial injustice, all through the point of view of a young girl. All you have to do is look around to see that her novel is as timely as ever.”
Grooming (Bryan Cranston and Lucas Hedges): Jessi Butterfield using Trees and Flowers For Skin at Tracey Mattingly
Grooming (Jeff Daniels): Lynda Eichner
Production: Leonel Becerra
Photography Assistants: Jimmy Kim, Michael Tessier
Fashion Assistant: Amber Simiriglia
Production Assistant: Zachary Mazur